There’s no question robotic process automation (RPA) technology is an emerging technology that continues to grow in both realized achievements and unrealized potential. Just two years ago, there was little recognition that business process outsourcers would embrace it so quickly or that it would penetrate the banking, accounting, insurance and contact center industries so deeply. With this rapid progress, perhaps the robotic software industry is confident enough to say what it’s not – as well as what it is – and stop encouraging people to think of it as autonomics.
During 2014, there were an abundance of articles which encouraged readers to draw an equivalency between autonomics and robotic software. Perhaps driven by insecurity or desire to maximize buzz and interest, industry white papers and solution reviews often blurred the distinction between the two terms. Of course, the terms are not interchangeable and now – almost halfway through 2015 - it’s time for the robotic software industry to stop directly or indirectly pretending they ‘kinda, maybe, sorta’ are the same things.
The principle difference is that robotic software automation of workflows is not self-learning and self-adaptive. Consider the human autonomic nervous system: do you tell your heart to increase beating or your lungs to increase breathes as you jog around the block? You don’t because your body regulates these and a myriad of other systems without waiting for your conscious intervention. To see the difference between RPA and that type of capability, witness what DeepMind’s true autonomic software can do.
“…an artificially intelligent computer program in its first encounter with Breakout, the classic Atari arcade game. After half an hour of play, the A.I. program is….apparently grasping the rudiments of the game. After another thirty minutes, it misses the ball only every third or fourth time. Then something happens. By the three hundredth game, the A.I. has stopped missing the ball. Hours after encountering its first video game, and without any human coaching, the A.I. has not only become better than any human player but has also discovered a way to win that its creator never imagined.”
Not only does false equivalency between the two technologies create confusion in the marketplace, but it also distracts from robotic software’s exceptional business value – and the largely absent business value for autonomics.
In practice, business processes rarely conform to self-learning functionality because, by their very nature, workflows are mapped to operational, compliance & regulatory requirements by procedures, policies, rules, prescribed actions, well defined exception handling and documented audit trails. The spontaneity of “Breakout” does occur in business areas, but typically not in the scope of processes with any critical mass.
Robotic software automation, on the other hand, delivers tremendous value by emulating autonomic self-learning capabilities; it can “observe” a business user execute a workflow and record all his steps and actions; it can also learn business rules and apply them to specific workflow events. The robotic software can then execute steps and rules precisely as the business user does – on a 24/7 basis, without errors and minus salary and benefits. The impact of this business value is so significant Alsbridge estimates outsourcing providers are reducing bids by 25-30% because of robotic software.
Further, the work automation value from reduced costs and increased performance comes with a very low initial and ongoing technology investment. Robotic software doesn’t trigger expensive software integration projects and self-learning functionality enables it to scale and adjust to process changes without burdening the IT department with constant support requirements. With such a remarkable story to tell, there’s no simply need to confuse anyone with autonomics - the RPA story is fine just as it is.
David Eddy has fifteen years of global application services experience.